New govt gets 'sigh of relief’ from farmers

Cr Tim Mepham
Cr Tim Mepham
Southern farmers hopeful of an end to the "onslaught" of reform sighed in collective relief when it became clear the next government would be National-led, sector leaders say.

And while some Otago regional councillors agreed it was time for Labour-led regulatory change to slow down, others cautioned against turning protecting the environment into a political football.

Otago Federated Farmers vice-president Anna Gillespie said she was hopeful a National government would "slow down the onslaught of regulation".

During Labour’s time in charge, the contentious national policy statement for freshwater management was swiftly followed by an equally concerning national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity, and then there was resource management act reform.

"Labour was just slamming them out," Mrs Gillespie said.

"I really hope that National will just go, ‘hang on, guys’ and slow it down and do it properly."

Chatton farmer Bernadette Hunt, who is Southland Federated Farmers senior vice-president, said the "collective sigh of relief" from farmers wanting change would be followed by "a long hangover period".

"The change of government doesn’t change all the things that are coming at us, instantly.

"The cost of living is not going to instantly change, our on-farm inflation is not going to suddenly change, interest rates are still high.

"And the reality is that the regulations that have been put in place already, that we have huge concerns with, are already having an effect — and that can’t instantly be undone.

"A lot of farms have already been sold: straight-out planted in pine trees.

"It doesn’t matter what this [new] government does, that is not changing.

"There’s a lot of damage been done, that’s not going to get fixed overnight."

Otago regional councillor Gary Kelliher said the farming community was not against "reasonable regulation".

"But just do it better.

"Farmers want to improve the environment on their properties, it’s just a matter of you have to be able to do it over time and be able to afford it."

Cr Michael Laws said the election result spelled the end of "Wellington ideology driving Otago policy".

He also embraced the prospect of adopting policies "that admit of reality".

A possible shift towards a "more localised community approach" to funding and decision-making had been signalled, deputy chairman Cr Lloyd McCall said.

"This is likely to be embraced by local government, a less regulated and more empowered society may result."

Chairwoman Cr Gretchen Robertson said key issues the region faced were relevant "regardless of political orientation" and the council would continue a productive relationship with any incoming government.

"Issues like resilience and hazards, biodiversity retention, freshwater and coastal health, clean air, food production, effective public transport systems and future-proofed infrastructure are relevant to all."

Cr Tim Mepham said he hoped the new government would stand by the national policy statements that had been developed "to protect and enhance" the environment.

"A commitment to improving our natural environment shouldn’t be a political football, dependant on what political party is in power."

Cr Elliot Weir was hopeful the new government would carry on with much of the reform work seen under the Labour-led government, including the future of local government review, Three Waters and resource management reform.

Cr Alan Somerville, who was endorsed by the Green Party, said the future of the economy and agriculture depended on having a healthy environment.

"The prospect of a National-led government is a little frightening for our communities, our public services, and our environment," he said.

However, there was also a "strengthened and enlarged" Green caucus with very capable people who would take up a role in opposition, he said.